A tumultuous 4-8 season last year following a five-game losing streak to end the previous year cost former head coach Mike Stoops and most of his staff their jobs. Some of that coaching staff has landed on their feet and secured new jobs, some have not, and one — offensive line coach Robert Anae — remains at Arizona.
Former wide receivers coach Dave Nichol was given the same position at East Carolina at the beginning of March following five years on Stoops’ staff, one year at Baylor and five years at Texas Tech.
Nichol started at Arizona in 2007 as a graduate assistant on the offensive line and was promoted to receivers coach in 2008. Under his tutelage, Arizona’s receivers contributed to one of the most prolific passing games in the nation.
The Daily Wildcat spoke with Nichol about his time at Arizona, not being re-hired by new coach Rich Rodriguez and how his East Carolina job came about, among other things.
DW: How did the East Carolina job come about for you?
Nichol: One, it was a job (laughs), which is good. You want a job, as opposed to not have[ing] one. The head coach (Ruffin McNeill) and me coached together at Texas Tech years ago when I was an assistant coach and graduate assistant, and he was the defensive coordinator. Several guys on the staff I know from Texas Tech, we’re very familiar. It worked out, so I’m really excited.
Were you surprised that Rich Rodriguez didn’t rehire you?
I didn’t (expect to be rehired). He was as good as he could be in that kind of situation and I’m not just saying that, but he’s an offensive guy, he’s a really good offensive guy. So I figured he would probably have guys in mind. You kind of know that’s going to happen, but I’m really, really happy for Robert Anae, who I’ve known for a long time. I’m really glad that Robert was able to stay and develop that young O-line.
Mike Stoops recently made comments to CBS Sports that a big reason why the UA struggled in recent years was because of a lack of football facilities. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t read a lot of what’s said and what’s been going on. I would be surprised if he said that’s the reason why we struggled, but I think on the field record-wise, it all played a part. I love Tucson, I talk to a bunch of people there, but the reality is we all had to move on and that’s what we’re all doing.
There’s no doubt, I recruited in Dallas, and I’m from Dallas, and half the high schools had better stuff than we did at Arizona, but that’s why they’re building that (the North End Zone Project). More than anything I just wish we had the opportunity to move in there but they’re taking the proper steps by building the new facility.
What are your thoughts on the North End Zone Project and what that means for the UA?
It’s gonna be awesome. I’m gonna be excited one day go back there at some point and see it. I talked to (former UA offensive lineman) Eben Britton and we were talking about that. I’m gonna be proud for guys like him and (former UA receiver and tight end) Mike Thomas, and Robbie (Rob Gronkowski), and a bunch of guys that helped, in my opinion, get that facility going. It’s all good stuff. We had a great time there and I wish we could’ve finished it a little bit better obviously but it’s only gonna help, that’s definitely gonna help coach Rich Rod and his staff.
Despite all the team’s struggles last year, the wide receivers were still considered by many to be one of the team’s best positions last year. How did it feel to be the coach of a position that received so much praise?
We could’ve done more, we could’ve played better. The first thing I did when I heard the news about coach Stoops was I called him to apologize because, you know, I thought we could have been even better. We had setbacks and injuries at times, but the reality is the schedule we played early, your best players have to play great to be able to compete with those teams so I thought, some of the guys in my room could’ve played better and that’s my job. I wish we could’ve done more. I was proud of the way we recruited there, the receiver position. I know they got a bunch of good young ones.
Three, four years ago I remember (former offensive coordinator Sonny) Dykes saying, ‘Look man, you need to go get some receivers,” and I felt like we did that. There’s some guys there that can play, really good kids. That’s the biggest disappointment for me. I just don’t get to coach them anymore, but they’re living on without me and that’s how it goes.
What are your thoughts on current UA receiver Dan Buckner?
I try to keep in touch a little bit, and obviously I didn’t see much of the practices, but I’d imagine a guy like Dan, I don’t care what offense it is, he knows he needs to play good. He’s got one year left and he wants to continue to play football, so I’d imagine he’s working hard like always. The biggest thing with him was always if he could just continue to mature, the sky’s the limit, which sounds dorky but it’s pretty true. My house is about 10 minutes from his back in Dallas so I wish nothing but the best for Dan and hopefully he can stay healthy and have a great year.
Who do you consider the three best receivers from your time coaching at Arizona?
Well you gotta say Juron (Criner). I guess not to make the answer boring since I didn’t really specifically coach Mike Thomas, I mean I did a little bit, but I’ll leave him out. I really liked coaching Terrell Turner. He was a very undervalued player and I throw him in that group of guys that helped what we did on offense with him teaching guys and being super consistent. And David Douglas. Juron and David Douglas were the two guys that I was able to coach the entire four years I was there. Two just great kids. I coached those guys from the time they walked down to the time they left so probably those two and Terrell Turner.
Receivers under Nichol
Nichol has coached numerous receivers to solid seasons in his coaching career, here are the most notable ones:
Juron Criner, Arizona, 2008-2011: 209 catches, 2,859 yards, 32 touchdowns
David Douglas, Arizona, 2008-2011: 151 receptions, 1,532 yards, 11 touchdowns
Terrell Turner, Arizona, 2008-2009: 91 receptions, 1,038 yards, 5 touchdowns
Mike Thomas, Arizona, 2008: 74 receptions, 826 yards, 4 touchdowns
Delashaun Dean, Arizona, 2008-2009: 95 receptions, 989 yards, 6 touchdowns